CinemaCon 2023 officially drew to a close this evening in Las Vegas, with NATO handing out its Big Screen Achievement Awards to such recipients as Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Zendaya, Chris Meledandri and Melissa McCarthy. The evening’s sentiment continued the running theme of the four-day conference: celebrating and preserving the theatrical experience.
Nolan and Thomas were honored with the Spirit of the Industry Award. The Oppenheimer director recounted that he’d recently been walking by a Regal cinema in New York and a young man passing him said, “You make the world a better place” and kept on going. “The first thing I thought is, my agents never said anything that nice to me,” Nolan quipped. But then, “I started to reflect on all of us who work in the movies — from the studios, distributors, theater owners, marketers, the people serving popcorn — we’re all engaged in a process that in some small way does make the world a better place. It’s an absolute good because we all work in what is the greatest art form ever created… It can combine the subjective experience of another human being the way a novel can, but it can combine at the same time with the empathetic experience of being in a theater, of feeling what the rest of the audience is feeling, and so I thought ‘What a wonderful sentiment’.”
Nolan then owned up, “If I’m being completely honest, what the young man actually said was ‘You make the world a better place, Mr Sorkin’.” More seriously, he added, “I think the sentiment still stands. It stands not just for the great Aaron Sorkin, but for all of us who work in movies because what movies provide is entertainment, it’s enjoyment, it’s emotion, it’s catharsis, it’s fear, it’s everything. It’s a wonderful thing to be involved in. We’re all incredibly privileged to be a part of it. Those of us who’ve been called upon, sort of outrageously, to defend it over the last few years are often accused, I’m often accused of magical thinking, of nostalgia, of daydreaming as opposed to a sound business plan and it’s taken the last few years for us all to realize that when you’re talking about movies, magical thinking, nostalgia, daydreaming — that is the sound business plan, it’s the only sound business plan. That’s what movies are.” He told exhibitors in the auditorium, “Whatever dreamlike stories are allowed to come out of this medium stands on the foundation of your theaters. And so, for that reason, it’s a privilege to work for you. Thank you very much.”
Referring to Oppenheimer, the star-packed drama about the creation of the atomic bomb that Universal releases in July, Thomas said, “We’re at the part in our filmmaking process where the creative work is done and we have to put our baby out into the real world and it is a terrifying, terrifying process.” She added that it’s around now that she and Nolan regularly “look at each other and ask the question, ‘Why do we do this?’”
But the answer comes soon enough, she explained to exhibitors in the audience, and it’s usually “when we’re standing at the back of one of your theaters watching one of the first paid audiences watch our movie… There’s something about watching an audience who’s bothered to come out of their house, sit within those four walls of the theater and be transported by the stores that we get to tell that makes sense of everything that we do.”
Zendaya was next honored with the Star of the Year Award and told theater owners, “I love what I do so, so much and I’m so grateful for all of you because without all of you what I do wouldn’t have a home or a place to go.” The eventual Spider-Man: Homecoming, Far From Home and No Way Home star recalled that her first date at age 15 was to go see Spider-Man in 3D and added, “I think in the theater, that’s where someone can feel seen, that’s where someone can feel less alone, that’s where someone can escape, that’s where someone can build a new dream.”
Also among honorees was Illumination CEO and founder Chris Meledandri whose Super Mario Bros Movie crossed $900M global earlier this week on its way soon past $1B. He recounted that on opening weekend he’d snuck into three different cinemas to watch audiences watching the movie. “In the second theater, I was standing there and I was watching the audience comprised of grandparents, children, couples, people dressed up just having an incredible time. It dawned on me that at that moment there were 25,000 theaters across the globe that were playing our film and that there was a level of joy that we were providing for those audiences at a moment in time when the world needs joy so badly.”
Added Meledandri, “I feel so fortunate to be partnered with all of you in that endeavor. So thank you for being our partners, and as you’ve heard so many times this week, we wouldn’t be here without all of you. This whole art form is not going to slip through our fingers because everybody here is determined to make it as great as it’s ever been.”
Cinéma Vérité Award winner Melissa McCarthy, who’ll next be seen in Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid as undersea villainess Ursula, said, “It’s feels a little odd to be thanked by the very institution that encouraged me towards the path of my life’s work… Movies were my inspiration, my educators, my friends. They not only opened my eyes to the possibilities for what I could become, and that feeling of sitting in a theater experiencing the collective joy and fear and love changed not only how I saw the world, but how I saw myself in it. It made me realize at a really early age that we are all in this together and we need that more now than ever. We have drifted from our shared humanities but I truly believe that cinema and storytelling can help heal that divide.”
Also accepting awards were the cast of Joy Ride, Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu and Sabrina Wu for Comedy Ensemble. Park told theater owners, “None of us ever really thought we had a place in this capacity on a big screen and the fact that you wanted this on your screens means so much to us.” Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback, who are starring together in Paramount’s summer release, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, were honored as Rising Stars of the Year.